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December 27, 2006

The Orcinus Syndrome

I didn't get to drop this little anecdote on Hugh Hewitt.

There's an idiot named David Nieuwert who writes an ultralefty blog called Orcinus. He's absolutely convinced this country is about to be taken over by the white power skinhead movement, and he churns out crappy books and crappier blogposts endeavoring to prove this.

He's also a journalist. Sort of. He had some kind of job at MSNBC for a while. What he does now, I don't know.

At any rate, we used to spar on Slate's old Fray forum. He began mocking Jimmy Carter for saying "nook-yoo-lar" rather than the correct "nuke-lee-ar." I offered that this was just a regionalism, that it really didn't reflect on his intelligence. (Other things do, certainly, but not a common mispronunciation.) I then ragged on him for presuming superior expertise on matters nuclear than someone who used to work the nuclear reactors on submarines.

At this point, he began asserting his "expertise" in journalism actually made him an expert of sorts in the fields he reported on.

He actuallly claimed to have an expertise in the law, common, criminal, and constitutional, simply by virtue of the fact he covered some legal stories and interviewed lawyers.

You're as much of an expert in the law as an actual, you know, practicing lawyer?, I asked, incredulously.

I don't know if he claimed that level of expertise, but his answer was definitely in that ballpark -- simply by working as a journalist for a while, he'd managed to pick up, by osmosis, the equivalent a three-year law education and several years of experience in practicing law.

This sort of smug retardation infects reporters, I think. I don't think it's just this Nieuwert moron, or Joseph Rago. I think these people believe that simply because they write a few stories in a field, they become, more or less, experts. Certainly they don't mind playing expert on Chris Matthews or the like.

I think reporters are like the Roman nomenclatura, the aids to senators who would follow them around, whispering into their ears the names of each person the Senator met, so the senators could greet them by name as if they'd remembered.

Reporters know the names of experts, and all the various people in government. Modern day nomenclatura. But they've mistaken this fairly minor bit of rote memorization for an actual working knowlege of the fields they cover. And they seem to get a bit touchy when it's even suggested they're simply non-experts in almost every field (except for the field of journalism itself), and ought not to pretend to be more than that.

It rankles them. They know the names of the main staffers for the Supreme Court justices. Doesn't that mean their opinions on constitutional law ought to be respected?

Well... not really, dude. Not really. Anyone can have an opinion on the law, and most people do. But simply having done some interviews in local criminal cases hardly elevates your expertise above the plebs you like to look down upon.

If you read the transcript of Hewitt's interview with Rago, you find Hewitt straining to find what field Rago might be an expert in, since he belives journalism to be the province of "the experts." Apart from some experience as a rower on a Dartmouth crew team, the search is futile.

So why doesn't Rago follow his own rule -- only experts can offer opinions -- and shut his piehole already?

Because, of course-- he's a journalist. A gen-u-ine, bona fide, instant omniversal expert without portfolio. An expert on whatever he happens to be reading that day, and which he thinks about for an hour or two.

J-school taught him that.

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posted by Ace at 08:48 PM

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